Author: Eric Barros
Date: 12 July 2012
Location: Tripoli, Libya
Category: Political, Military
Actors: Libya, NATO
Amidst heavy reporting of large-scale atrocities and global economic woes, it is easy to dismiss Libya as a resolved case. Any decision to view Libya as an irrelevant backwater of the Arab Awakening is misguided and dangerous, particularly because of the resources, capabilities, and prevalence of the country’s armed factions. Months after the last NATO sortie flown against the Qaddafi regime, Libyans worldwide await the results of last week’s constitutional assembly elections. This is an elementary, yet prudent, step toward effective governance for the North African nation. Continued advancement in this process will be an important indicator of the long-term success of the American/European-led campaign last year. Failing to install an effective, lasting government will not only cause supporters of Operation Unified Protector to lose face, but also risks alienating and inciting the combat experienced militias around the country.
Prior to his eventual demise, Qaddafi’s forces vehemently attacked the Libyan populations that called for his removal. In so doing, the Brother Leader invited international calls for outside intervention. Aside from the direct action taken to establish a no-fly zone and restrict the movements of government forces, rebels enjoyed an immense funding and training campaign to support their militias. In a rather uncharacteristic move, Qatar deployed commando units to train and equip anti-Qaddafi revolutionaries. The balance of power shifted following the influx of money and weaponry, and the coordination of NATO air power with the revolutionary forces sealed Qaddafi’s fate. The decades of dictatorship came to an abrupt end, but the well-trained and highly organized veterans of the conflict remain ubiquitous and active.
Currently, the situation is quite stable with regard to the former revolutionaries. Referred to as the National Shield, regional units left over from the revolution take direction from the Defense Minister in a system somewhat akin to the National Guard concept. Rather than being absorbed by the National Army, the National Shield contingents maintain their separation while thoroughly cooperating with the traditional standing military. Despitemostly lawful behavior, the existence of such combat-ready masses makes the need for legitimate government all the more pressing.
Libyan involvement in radical movements increased under Qaddafi’s rule. For example, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group began as an ideological organization aimed at removing the Qaddafi government. Five years after its creation, the LIFG participated in international terrorism, showing its expansive capability and access. Interestingly, most founding members boasted skills and contacts acquired during their time in the Afghanmujahedeen fight against the Soviet invasion. Policymakers must seriously consider the historic Afghan example while they form their stances on post-Qaddafi Libya. Additionally, since a merger with Al-Qaeda, the leadership roster of Bin Laden’s terrorist network has consistently included a number of Libyans.
The Libyan draw to radical movements like Al-Qaeda centered heavily on the common renunciation of oppressive, authoritarian Arab governments- much like that of Muammar Qaddafi. The reign of the green flag in Libya is over, but the goal of a wholly competent, legitimate government remains unrealized. Admittedly, governance is not the total solution to ease security concerns, as economics and the pervasiveness of radical voices are significant factors. For the moment, however, continuing to allow other events to overshadow our concentration on Libyan affairs risks passive allowance of an environment where Libyan personnel and resources flow toward groups with radical, anti-western agendas. Those who advocated the Unified Protector campaign must ensure that it’s spirit continues, and the international community works to promote swift, enduring advances toward an able Libyan government.